I’m currently about to tick over the 3day mark, of an attempt at a 5day fast. Yes – that means no food AT ALL for 5 days. It’s the first time I have attempted to fast for a 5-day period. I do a- 3day fast each month, or at least aim to, and I’ve been wanting to try a more extended 5day and 7day fast since i began. Naturally this is a pretty big stretch from 3days, and my mind can come up with an endless number of reasons not to do it. It has taken me a while to get my head around it, and to actually do it, but i’m stoked to have finally gotten over the mental hurdle and simply be attempting it, which in itself is a great step forward.
I wanted to address some of the questions i get when i share content about a fast i’m doing. Questions like – What are the benefits? Isn’t it bad for you not eating for so long? How the f@#$ do you not eat for 5 days?! I will try and answer some of these questions as well as cover off the specific protocol i follow when fasting.
I want to start by clarifying – I am not a doctor. This is not advice. I am not recommending you start fasting – I’m just wanting to share my experience and provide some further clarity for anyone curious. Although I have found enormous benefits in exploring and experimenting with the process.
Eating Is The Ultimate Habit
It’s worth noting why fasting can seem so difficult, and likely be quite challenging, atleast at the beginning. I think the main reason is simply habit. We have very strong habits built around eating, and strong attachment to food and our relationship to it. It is most likely extremely compulsive for most people, with zero level of awareness of this fact. Most people would never have questioned it.
When i first began fasting i tried to estimate how many days through my life i had not eaten any food. I estimated 14 days total just as a rough number.
At the time it was probably 14 days of 36 years of life.
So 13,140 days of life, and only 14 no food. 14 / 13140 = 0.1%
This means 0.1% of the days of my life i have not eaten. or 99.9% of days i have eaten.
This gives a clear perspective as to why it challenges you on such an unconscious and habitual level.
We have so many habits around food and how we interact with it. Things such as when we eat. What we typically eat at said times. Things we consume at certain times and different items at other times. You may have expectations that have been solidified in your mind -“its now X time – i should be eating!” It is deeply ingrained in our behaviour.
The reasons I fast now are probably slightly different than they were to begin with. Initially i just had no idea if it were even possible, and how i would find the process. There was a lot of unknowns. Now it’s much more about just reinforcing the learnings. I don’t imagine the feelings will change on day zero preparing to fast for 5 days when you look at your calendar on a Monday and think “Whoa. I am not going to eat anything until Saturday!” It was a pretty daunting thought, and likely will be again i expect.
There have been many learnings as a result of regular fasting. As with practicing anything you tend to learn about what works for you and what doesn’t over time, so I have learnt heaps and tweaked the process here and there – ie don’t eat a a big bowl of pasta, or anything carb heavy as your last meal before a fast – Big mistake.
The main reasons why i fast currently are
- To activate Authopahy
- To lean into that which is uncomfortable, and maintain fasting as a part of my lifestyle and rhythm
There are a host of other reasons including
- Optimise Cognition (mental processes)
- Better understand relationship to food, and re-frame. This includes better understanding triggers that lead you to eating, or wanting food and why.
- Improved sleep quality
- Personal challenge and flexing perception of what is possible
- Rest and reset vital organs
- break down stubborn fat storages
Autophagy – What Is It?
“Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat. So the literal meaning of autophagy is “self-eating. In basic terms Autophagy is a process where by your body breaks down dead cells that can mutate and cause a host of auto-immune diseases such as cancer, alzheimers and parkinsons, among many other benefits. Beyond a certain age, everyone has these cells and without forcing your body into Autophagy you do no nothing to remove them. This leaves the door open for these diseases to develop over time.
Since i learnt about fasting and the processes of Autophagy which you activate in the body as a result, it became something that I could not ignore and had to adopt in a consistent and sustainable way. I don’t have any history of the above in family blood lines that I am aware of, but i value my physical health almost above all else. It is an absolute core value for me as everything flows from it. I think it is unreasonable to expect to have really good mental health if you don’t look after your physical body as an example. Your ability to then prioritise family and friends etc is not possible without the above, so this is, in part, what initially motivated me to begin experiment with fasting. I think of it simply like the oxygen mask on the aeroplane example. You put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so you can then place it on others around you.
Getting Started & My Mindset
I initially just began to experiment and was curious about the process. I began with a 3day fast, and i think i caved after 2 and a bit days. But that didn’t matter – there were so many learnings straight away. With the exception of Yoga/Meditation, I think I have learnt more from fasting about my own psychology than almost anything else. It provides such a signifiant level of clarity around differentiating between physical body hunger – That feeling in your stomach where you can really feel the need for food and can observe a noticeable lack of energy; and the more brain hunger that we get, that i think of like the brain essentially just wanting to tickle the dopamine receptors. Learning to notice the difference between these two feelings has been a big deal for me as it leads on to a much greater level of awareness to when your brain may be wanting that dopamine fix as the quick solution, and no part of your physical body actually needs or is wanting nutrients.
Since attempting my first 3 day fast it became so clear how good the process is for the body. I have continued to do a 3 day fast each month since and fast intermittently often.
My basic mindset toward fasting is, that i want to make it as smooth and manageable as possible, and im very clear on the reasons i do it, and things i want to avoid as a result of the process.
The main thing i want to avoid through the process is the body feeding off muscles. Not that i have much anyway.. but this is not something i want to do, as i want the body to feed off the ketones that are released through breaking down the fat cells.
The main point to this is hydration. Muscles are something like 90% water. If we don’t adequately hydrate we end up chewing through muscle potentially. Solution: Lots of water, with pink salts in the water to help retain as much of the fluid as possible.
The other big thing to remember through this, is that you are covered in energy. In the same way a free diver can hold their breath for 5+ minutes and way exceed what most think is normal or possible, they are very well aware of the reality that their body has more than enough oxygen. In this same way, you have more than enough fuel for your body to not only run, but to run in an extremely efficient manner.
Activating Ketosis Through Fasting.
I want to get my body into a ketotic state as quickly as possible. This is key. I think of this as switching the bodies fuel source from glycogen to fats/keytones, much like turning on a light switch or turning a tap from hot to cold. If you are slow to switch the fuel source it puts the body into an ultra stressful state, where it is as if the fuel gauge is showing empty and the car is trying desperately to extract every last drop of fuel before the engine fails. This is BRUTAL and you have a very high chance of caving if you do it this way. So to get into ketosis as quickly as possible, we want to burn through any glucose stores left in the body as soon as we wake up. If we quickly churn through these it’s as if the body flicks a switch from glucose to Fats much more efficiently. Once you’re in ketosis, it’s typically smooth sailing, and I normally feel really good. Cognitively the brain waaaay prefers fats as a fuel source, and you can definitely notice this. You feel very clear and efficient mentally once you start accessing the fats.
3-Day Fasting Protocol:
I need to thank Tim Ferris for all his research and experimentation around fasting, as this is essentially the protocol he laid out, and was super helpful in me getting started. I found it made the process very manageable for the most part and am very much appreciative of having that information made available.
– Final meal before beginning fast.
The main thing I think of here is eating whole foods, nothing processed and very low carbohydates. I’ll typically just have a bowl of veg with some butter or olive oil and some lemon juice.
Broccoli, capsicum, spinach, asparragus maybe a couple pieces of sweet potato.
– 6pm fast begins.
I’ll likely go for a run, or a walk in the evening before I sleep. This is not essential, but anything to work through glycogen storage either side of sleep I have found to have a huge impact.
– Once waking up, if I feel like having a coffee I will. It will just be black but I typically avoid coffee when fasting now. I take it as a good opportunity to cycle off it.
- 3-4 hour walk. You want to aim to get moving within 30mins of waking up. Get a large bottle of water and add some pink salts and get going. This is where we aim to burn through the excess glycogen stores and activate ketosis as quickly as possible.
- I do have a unit to measure my ketone levels, so if I get back from a walk and they are not high enough, I’ll go walking for another hour to two if possible.
- Remember, lots of water!
- Use the time to listen to listen to an audiobook or listen to a podcast.
Same as above. From the extended walk yesterday you should be in ketosis now. I typically will still go for a long walk to start each day but an hour or two is heaps.
Repeat. I have previously used Keto CaNa when fasting which I would consume 2-3 times through the day. I don’t have any this time round, so will just be water all the way.
Again, wake up. Walk. Move the body. Read a book, and go about your day as normal afterwards.
For a 3 day fast, when breaking it, it doesn’t so much matter what you eat. I am going to aim to break with a broth this time around, but its up to you. That’s it.
You did it!! Enjoy a nice light meal, and well done.
Hopefully that gives some insight into the process and the reasons why. Also to recap from the beginning of the article – i finished the 5 day fast. It was a really great experience for the most part. The usual short mental challenges here and there, but mostly really smooth. I noticed the mental hurdle of going beyond where i’m used to finishing and it was really interesting to just observe the thoughts related. I plan to do a 5 day fast moving forward every 3-6 months and will likely explore a 7 day some time soon which is not much of a stretch really. Once you’re in such a deep state of ketosis it gets pretty comfortable.
By Andrew Keir